Lawsuit Endangers Reliable Water and Food Supply

Byron, CA (June 11, 2021)Legal action initiated by a coalition of California environmental interest groups could disrupt reliable water supplies for nearly 100 water purveyors from Shasta Lake to Sacramento, across the Central Valley, Silicon Valley, and beyond.

In a recent court filing, Restore the Delta, Planning and Conservation League and the Center for Biological Diversity, who had already sued the United States Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) and the United States Department of Interior, named nearly 100 Central Valley Project (CVP) contractors, including the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID), as defendants. The complaint seeks to invalidate, without cause, CVP water contracts that are foundational to California’s water supply, especially for its agricultural industry that provides more than half of the nation’s fruits, nuts, and vegetables.

The heart of the plantiffs’ case is the “conversion” of CVP contracts from “long-term” or “interim renewal” contracts, which Reclamation would renew upon expiration, to permanent contracts. BBID acted in good faith utilizing a provision in federal legislation known as the WIIN Act to convert its CVP contracts to repayment contracts, carrying a perpetual term.  The purpose of the conversion simply allows BBID, and other CVP contractors, to immediately repay Reclamation a debt obligation; it does not alter the operation of the CVP or the quantity of water that a contractor is entitled to receive.  BBID’s conversion was a common-sense, financially prudent move benefitting the District’s agricultural growers in San Joaquin County.

So, what’s the sticking point? Environmental interests argue Reclamation was legally obligated to perform an intensive ecological review before it converted BBID’s and other contractors’ CVP contracts. And because Reclamation didn’t do so, the complaint argues, those contracts violate the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Here’s the reality. The WIIN Act directs Reclamation to execute these contract conversions when a contractor requests it. In other words, federal law mandates these contract conversions. In any event, the prospect of a lengthy, expensive, and ultimately redundant review process (when other than the method of payment, the substantive contract obligations do not change) is a poor use of taxpayer resources.

The complaint further argues that the new contracts essentially guarantee a CVP contractor its full supply.  In fact, prior to execution of the new contracts, Reclamation rarely provided a 100% allocation to its CVP contractors due to a host of hydrological, regulatory, and environmental factors.     For example, BBID endured three consecutive years of a 0% allocation during the last drought.  This reality will not change with execution of the new contracts.   This year, under the new repayment contracts, BBID’s initial 5% allocation for irrigation was first suspended, and now eliminated altogether in the wake of our second straight dry winter.  This year, water for municipal and industrial purposes has been drastically reduced from 55% to 25%.

We all recognize the great challenges ahead. Instead of lawsuits like these, we must focus on finding common ground and funding meaningful, multi-benefit solutions that balance the beneficial uses of California’s water supply and protect our environmental resources in the face of of diminishing supplies and increasing demand.

Water Supply Cuts Demonstrate Need for Long-Term Investments, Solutions

Sacramento, CA (May 28, 2021) – In the midst of worsening drought conditions, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) on Wednesday announced deeper water supply cuts for farms and communities, including those served by the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID).

The initial 2021 Central Valley Project (CVP) allocation for south-of-Delta CVP contractors including BBID was first set at 5% and then suspended until further notice. Reclamation announced the allocation has been eliminated altogether. The allocation for M&I water service contractors was also reduced from 55% to 25%.

BBID General Manager Rick Gilmore said in response:

“We recognize the difficultly Reclamation faces in fulfilling Central Valley Project water deliveries in a critically dry year. It yet again underscores the need for significant regulatory reform and diverse, meaningful engagement from federal and state leadership.

It also demands substantial investments to mitigate the very real short-term impacts to our growers in San Joaquin County and other communities impacted by a 0% CVP allocation, as well as for long-term sustainable solutions to bolster our resilience against this drought – and the next, and the one after that.

Between the October 2020 to May 2021, nearly 3.3 million Acre Feet of water passed through the Delta and flowed out to the Golden Gate Bridge – two thirds of the Delta inflow. Had we been able to capture even a small fraction of that water, it would have dramatically improved the situation we find ourselves in today.

We missed the opportunity to do so because of outdated environmental policies that have proven ineffective for restoring declining fish populations, and due to a lack of progress on building and expanding storage facilities to store water when it’s abundant, for dry years exactly like this.

We must work together in the months and years to come to reshape the CVP – its critical infrastructure, and the regulations that govern it – in order to meet the needs of our communities and provide reliable water for agriculture.”

Updated CVP Allocation Announced; Water Unavailable Until Further Notice

Sacramento, CA (March 23, 2021) – Today, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) updated the water allocation for South-of-Delta Central Valley Project (CVP) contractors, including the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID). Reclamation kept its initial 5% allocation in place, but suspended availability of that water until further notice. BBID General Manager Rick Gilmore issued the following statement: 

“We recognize that California is in the midst of extraordinary dry conditions, forcing Reclamation to take a measured approach to balancing regulatory and contractual obligations for the Central Valley Project. 

Today’s announcement unfortunately creates additional uncertainty and financial strain on growers in BBID’s CVP Service Area. The time to purchase crop insurance has come and gone, and crops are already in the ground. 

The District will pursue water transfers to meet the needs of our growers, albeit at a much higher cost than CVP water. 

We appreciate the Bureau’s commitment to preserve its initial allocation as hydrology continues to worsen. Our second straight dry winter — punctuated by a lack of significant snowfall during the month of March — makes it all the more challenging to meet the complex, diverse water needs of the state.”

Reclamation’s announcement preserves the allocation announced in February, but delays access to that water.

California’s Department of Water Resources also reduced the allocation for State Water Project Contractors from 10 percent to 5 percent.

Dry Winter, Low Water Allocation Demand Long-Term Solutions

Sacramento, CA (February 23, 2021) – In the midst of persistently dry winter weather, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) today announced an initial 5% Central Valley Project (CVP) allocation for South-of-Delta CVP contractors, including the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID). The current statewide snowpack average is hovering just above 50%.

“We wish the initial allocation were higher, but we recognize the difficult position Reclamation is in given the lack of precipitation,” said BBID General Manager Rick Gilmore. “In recent years, we have seen two extremes of California weather: record drought and record-setting rain and snow. Meeting the water needs of our growers – and the state – is a problem best solved with flexible, multi-year resource management based on our latest science.”

“It demands investment in the upkeep and restoration of our critical water facilities, in the enhancement of our ability to store water when it’s plentiful for the next drought we know is coming, and in common sense policy that removes bureaucratic hurdles,” Gilmore continued.

The San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority (SLDMWA), which represents 27 member agencies including BBID, joined the call for sustainable solutions. SLDMWA members provide water service to approximately 1,200,000 acres of irrigated agriculture, 2 million people, and 130,000 acres of wetlands within the western San Joaquin Valley, San Benito and Santa Clara counties.

“Healthy and sustainable food production is a national security issue and the Authority’s member agencies serve the urban and agricultural communities that grow a significant portion of the nation’s plate,” said SLDMWA Executive Director Federico Barajas. “As a community, region, state and country, we need to work collaboratively to improve the resilience of California’s water system in a balanced way, particularly with the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Authority staff will continue to work with Reclamation and its member agencies to analyze hydrologic conditions in hopes the allocation can be increased as early as practicable.”

In a news release, Reclamation said it will continue to monitor hydrology as the water year progresses, looking for opportunities for operational flexibility.

Spring Storms Boost CVP Water Allocation

Sacramento, CA (May 19, 2020) – Today, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) issued an updated, increased water supply allocation of 20% for South-of-Delta Central Valley Project (CVP) contractors, including the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID). The initial allocation had been set at 15%.

Federico Barajas, Executive Director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, issued the following statement:

“During these unprecedented times, we must remember that reliable water supplies are the foundation on which community and economic health is built.

This year’s lack of rain and snowpack has challenged Reclamation’s ability to meet the multiple needs for water deliveries from the Central Valley Project – agricultural water supply, water for ecosystems and threatened species, and water for California’s urban populations.

The San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority appreciates Reclamation’s ability to carefully strike a balance, given the challenging conditions. The reliability and quantity of surface water deliveries directly impacts the amount of groundwater that is used to produce the food we eat and the water we drink.

Today’s announcement of a water allocation increase has positive benefits for California communities and its environment and reduces the reliance on groundwater aquifers in the San Joaquin Valley.”

BBID is a member agency of the SLDMWA, which serves 28 member public agencies, 25 of which contract with Reclamation for water supply from the CVP.

In a news release, Reclamation credited spring storms for the increased allocation.

“Thanks to April precipitation showing a sizeable water supply improvement for the American River watershed, Reclamation is pleased to announce this increased allocation for CVP water contractors south-of-the Delta,” said California-Great Basin Regional Director Ernest Conant. “Even with the recent gains in water supply, the year as a whole has still been relatively dry. Reclamation will continue to monitor conditions and adjust accordingly. We urge our contractors to continue to exercise conservative use of the resource.”

Further water supply updates are posted at http://www.usbr.gov/mp/cvp-water/index.html. 

Sec. Bernhardt: Recent State Water Litigation “Ill-Founded, Potentially Unlawful”

On Tuesday, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt addressed recent litigation filed by the State of California, in relation to the operations of the state and federal water projects.

In the below letter addressed to Senator Dianne Feinstein, Sec. Bernhardt responded to recent letters written by Governor Newsom and Senator Feinstein regarding California water management.

CVP-Response-to-Sen.-Feinstein

Dry Weather Leads to Low Water Allocation

Sacramento, CA (February 25, 2020) – Today, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) issued an initial water supply allocation of 15% for South-of-Delta Central Valley Project (CVP) contractors, including the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID).

After a promising start to winter, dry conditions have returned across California. It has rained more in February in Death Valley than in Sacramento. The statewide snowpack is below average, and the long-range forecast indicates the lack of rain and snowfall may continue.

This image released by the National Weather Service, illustrates the dramatic difference between this year and last year’s snowpack.

“While we certainly wish Reclamation was able to issue a higher allocation, we recognize they must be responsive to our state’s current conditions,” said BBID GM Rick Gilmore. “The looming threat of the next drought underscores the need for adaptative water management. Implementing the new biological opinions abandons an outdated, restrictive approach in favor of real-time, cutting-edge science to best meet the needs of cities, farms and the environment.”

For the first time in a decade, updated biological opinions were issued last week. Those federal rules govern water use through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Had those biological opinions been in place last year, it is estimated that the projects would have been able to save more than one-million acre-feet of additional water. That would be tremendously valuable in any year, but especially in a dry one like 2020. At a 15% allocation, growers in BBID’s CVP service area will have a baseline water supply of just 0.51 acre-feet of water per acre – down from 3.4 acre-feet per acre with a full allocation.

“This initial allocation also underlines the need for investment in our water systems, including increasing storage to save more water during wet years for use during dry ones; and more conveyance to move water more flexibly, ensuring reliability in the face of increasingly unpredictable, extreme weather patterns.”

Farmers Face Water Shortfall Despite Dense Snowpack, Full Reservoirs

Byron, CA (April 17, 2019) – Today, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) announced a slight increase in the allocation for South-of-Delta Central Valley Project (CVP) contractors, to 65%. This comes at a time the state’s snowpack is so dense it’s been referred to as a “water supply dream,” and every reservoir used to supply South-of-Delta operations is above 100% of normal.

“Despite an overly abundant water supply,” said BBID GM Rick Gilmore, “this incremental increase is essentially a drop in the bucket. If we can’t even get close to a full, 100% supply this year – then when, if ever?”

“The snowpack surpassed 160% of normal in the northern and central Sierra Nevada,” Gilmore continued. “Meanwhile, reservoirs are in flood control operations. And yet, our growers and ranchers are still being forced to make do with less than their fair share.”

At the outset of the 2019 growing season, the uncertainty created by continually delayed allocation announcements makes it extremely difficult for farmers to plan their operations.

“Reclamation staff understands the challenges and difficulties these decisions create,” Gilmore said. “However, they are boxed in by the biological opinions in the overly-protective Endangered Species Act, which imposes significant restrictions on available water at a time there is more than enough to go around. To add insult to injury, the restrictions that have crippled CVP operations for so long have provided none of the intended benefits to fish species, which continue to decline despite the severe impacts the biological opinions are having on people. We also are concerned that SB1, newly-proposed legislation, may make this problem worse, not better.”

“Never has the problem – and solution – been clearer,” Gilmore said. “It is beyond argument that these runaway regulations must be reigned in. Until then, the CVP can’t fulfill its primary purpose: supplying water to those who supply much of the nation’s food.”

Growers Faced with Low Water Allocation Despite Plentiful Winter Storms

Byron, CA (February 20, 2019) – BBID General Manager Rick Gilmore issued the following statement, after the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) on Wednesday issued an initial 35% allocation for South-of-Delta Central Valley Project (CVP) contractors, including BBID:

“Reclamation’s initial allocation tells an all-too-familiar story. Despite above-average water supplies, CVP water deliveries are being restricted by outdated science and failed regulations, forcing growers to make do with less water.

This month, California has seen 18 trillion gallons of precipitation – enough to fill Lake Shasta 12 times. Our snowpack is well above normal. Runoff into many of the state’s main reservoirs this year is projected to be as much as 1.1 million-acre-feet higherthan at this time in 2012. Mother Nature is doing her part.

These overly conservative, low initial allocations unfairly burden the District’s growers and ranchers. They struggle to make informed planning decisions in the face of an uncertain water supply. BBID continues to work for constructive, collaborative reviews of existing regulations, and to ensure that the latest science is put to use for water allocations that impact BBID and the entire state.”

–Rick Gilmore, GM